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Lots of Enthusiasm, But No Federal Dollars for ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

By Alyson Klein — September 30, 2014 2 min read
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About 100 cities, counties, and tribal communities have said they are going to take the Obama administration up on its new “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative community challenge, which calls for local governments and tribes to help address the needs of traditionally overlooked minority kids, including Black and Hispanic students. The list of participants is diverse and includes everyone from Anniston, Ala., to Washington, D.C.

Communities that decide to take the administration up on the “challenge” commit to working towards at least one of a series of goals outlined earlier this year by the “My Brother’s Keeper” task force, which includes Jim Shelton, the deputy secretary of education.

Those goals include getting all kids socially and emotionally prepared for school, getting all kids reading on grade level by third grade, ensuring all students graduate from high school and get some post-secondary training, and keeping children and teenagers safe from violence.

Importantly, the communities get absolutely no money from the federal government for signing onto this challenge. The White House is aiming to drive progress through the force of collective action and attention, not through federal resources. Philanthropies, however, are pledging $200 million to the effort.

“This isn’t a new federal initiative,” said Julian Castro, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former mayor of San Antonio, on a conference call with reporters. “Rather it’s a call to action.”

My Brother’s Keeper is one of a handful of new Obama administration efforts in which the White House is trying to move the needle on persistent problems—such as the achievement gap and poverty—without offering states and communities much—or any—significant new funding. Promise Zones also fall into this category, although communities that are recognized under that program do get a leg-up in some federal grant competitions, which doesn’t appear to be something the My Brother’s Keeper community challenge offers.

The White House does highlight new federal programs that match up with some of the initiative’s goals, including $57 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education to help improve school climate and safety.

Will all those pledges actually lead to new policies or resources for traditionally overlooked students, or is that not possible without new resources? Is My Brother’s Keeper an example of the White House trying to affect change (and more cynically, garner some positive headlines for the president) at a time when the administration doesn’t have much the money (or political cooperation) to work its will? Comments section is open!

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